Uber is officially launching Uber Eats food delivery for businesses today, 17 months after first launching a pilot version of the service in the U.S. The company said that it is now “fast tracking” the global launch after the number of businesses customers using Uber Eats surged in March, due partly to enforced home-working policies as organizations entered lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is an important launch for Uber, as demand for ride-hail services plummeted in the wake of shelter-in-home policies that started in the U.S. in the middle of March. In recent days, Uber has encouraged its drivers to look for work in other areas of its business that may be less impacted, including Uber Freight, its on-demand recruitment platform Uber Works, and Uber Eats. Although online food delivery services have reportedly been adversely impacted by COVID-19 too, businesses have seemingly bucked that trend — Uber said that it saw a 28% increase in Uber for Business customers using Uber Eats between February and March.
Uber has long sought to diversify its business away from its core consumer ride-hailing service. Back in 2014, Uber launched Uber for Business, making it easier for employees to bill work-related trips to their company, while it also launched UberFresh — later rebranded as UberEats — which leverages Uber’s transport network to deliver restaurant-cooked meals to people’s homes. Thus, a dedicated Uber Eats for businesses product made total sense when it launched back in November, 2018.
Starting from today, Uber Eats sheds its “pilot program” tag for businesses in the U.S. and will also be made available in the U.K., Canada, France, and Brazil. The company plans to expand the service to more than 20 markets throughout 2020.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck Uber was struggling to cut its losses in the quest for profitability. Uber Eats has represented the company’s fastest growing business even as the unit loses money, with sales growing 73% in the past year, and it’s clear that Uber sees the current home-working surge as a good opportunity to not only keep its drivers earning money but also gain traction in the potentially lucrative corporate catering realm.
Uber Eats for businesses is a slightly different proposition to the consumer-focused incarnation. It’s aimed squarely at travelers who want to order food to their hotel or Airbnb while on a work trip, someone staying late at the office, or for that big lunchtime meeting. Through a dedicated dashboard, company admins can set parameters on things like per-meal allowances, location, and what time of day meals can be ordered — for example, they can stipulate that meals can only be ordered after 6 p.m. on weekdays, and they can geofence orders so that they can only be made while a worker is in a specific location.
From the worker’s perspective, they can use the standard Uber app as usual, and just switch to their work profile when placing their order.
Above: Uber Eats: Personal and Business accounts
While many employees are indeed working from home during the COVID-19 crisis, many essential frontline workers are still working on-site too, who may have limited access to food outlets, and this is also another reason why Uber Eats has seen a rise in demand over the past month.
“We’ve made this move to respond to a surge of interest from companies looking to support employees who are working from home or who have limited food options on the road or in the field,” noted Ronnie Gurion, global head of Uber for Business. “In addition to supporting employee productivity and social distancing, this expansion is seeking to help broaden the delivery marketplace for restaurants partnered with Uber Eats and ensure that they have access to higher volume, repeat orders.”
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